Technology

Major solar flare erupts from the sun

The sun has emitted a powerful solar flare into space, releasing waves of radiation that caused a short radio blackout on Earth.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash at 8pm yesterday Australian EDT. 

The blast did not produce a significant coronal mass ejection however, and NASA says no auroras are expected in the wake of the blast.

But according the Carter Observatory in Wellington, New Zealand, the region from where the blasts are occurring is becoming more Earth facing and any further events over the week may lead to Aurora Australis, or southern lights.

Mt John Observatory superintendent Alan Gilmore said the sun is putting out solar flares all the time, but it needs to be heading towards Earth for the colourful auroras to light up the sky.

"The solar flares are occurring, but they are not throwing things in our direction," he said.

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The latest solar flare was the fourth significant flash from an active region on the southeast of the sun numbered AR 1598, which emerged three days ago.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, but are not harmful as they cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere.

When intense enough, they can disturb GPS and communications signals anywhere from minutes to hours.

The United States government's official source for space weather forecasts and alerts categorised the radio blackout associated with the latest flare as an R3 on a scale from R1 to R5, but it has since subsided.

NASA said an increased number of flares are quite common at the moment since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up towards solar maximum, which is expected in 2013.

The first intense flare of the current solar cycle occurred in February last year, and there have been 15 since.

The largest significant flare in this cycle was on August 9, 2011. 

Fairfax New Zealand

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